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Deep Dive: CSPD investigators want people to know about recent uptick in costly rental scams

Fraudsters stealing as much as $3,000 at a time
CSPD warns of costly rental scams going on
Posted at 4:38 AM, Jun 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-07 10:23:34-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — At the Financial Crimes Division of the Colorado Springs Police Department reports continue to come in about rental scams in our area. This isn't a new scheme, but people continue to make mistakes costing them money and a place to live.

The summer months are the busiest time of year for people looking to move, but in the Colorado Springs area investigators say fraudsters are taking advantage of home and apartment hunters.

Some scammers hijack a real rental or real estate listing by changing the email address or other contact information, and placing the modified ad on another site. The altered ad may even use the name of the person who posted the original ad.

Other rip-off artists make up listings for places that aren't for rent or don't exist, and try to lure you in with the promise of low rent, or great amenities. Their goal is to get your money before you find out.

"I see all kinds of scams all the time, but I've really seen an uptick in the rental scams, so it's definitely happening and it's something to look out for," said Colorado Springs Police Department Financial Crimes Unit Investigator Joe Matiatos.

Investigators say the reported losses have been significant.

"Anywhere from a thousand to two, three thousand dollars. It'll be first month's rent and then a deposit, send us this, wire it here, or use this cash app, then we will send you the keys in a couple of days and then the keys never show up and the money is gone," said Sgt. Matiatos.

In 2018 Apartment List worked with a Stanford-educated economist to do a survey. It found 5.2 million people lost money in rental scams. 43% say it was due to bogus online ads. One in three lost at least $1,000 and in 2019 the FBI reported $37 million lost to these scams.

This is happening locally and it is leaving families in terrible situations.

"Had everything in their car and drove to the house only to find out that the person living there says no I live here and I'm not renting this place and they had nothing. If I remember correctly officers put them up in a hotel for a couple of days because they had nothing. They couldn't go back. They didn't have a home to go back to, so that was pretty devastating for them," said Sgt. Matiatos.

The Federal Trade Commission says there are some red flags and signs of a scam to look for. You may want to look to live somewhere else if the supposed property owner asks you to wire money, they want a security deposit or rent before you've signed a lease, and if they can't meet in person but promise to send you a key if you send the money.

These scams are widely underreported. 500 complaints recently sparked a federal investigation and the FTC later discovered there were actually more than 168,000 victims targeted by just one of these scams.

For helpful advice, resources, and ways to report these scams visit: https://www.bbb.org/article/news-releases/21033-bbb-investigation-rental-scams